It’s a big year ahead for Irish players looking to impress a new management team. Martin O’Neill has spoken of unearthing a hidden gem while some more established names will be hoping to make a bigger impact than they did with Giovanni Trapattoni. We could also see some new faces in the Irish set-up with a big second half to the season coming up ahead of the beginning of Euro 2016 qualifying in September.
Players like Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady, and David Meyler made an impression in the latter days of Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign and they’re likely to stay on the radar but we’ve picked seven names who could have big years in 2014.
Clark has become a main man for Aston Villa as Paul Lambert’s young squad try to stabilise their poor form and pull away from the bottom half of the Premier League table. Clark has also been a more prominent part of Ireland’s plans and that looks set to continue under the new management with top-flight centre halves few and far between in the Irish set-up. A former captain of the England U19s, Clark made his début for his newly adopted Ireland in the Carling Nations Cup game against Wales and scored a first international goal in the friendly win over Poland last February.
The 24-year-old now dons the skipper’s armband at Villa Park. Despite a turbulent campaign last season when they flirted with relegation, Clark has been part of a maturing Villa side. He’s missed just two games this season for his club while he started for Ireland in the World Cup qualifier against Germany and also came on in the clash with Austria. With Sean St Ledger struggling to hold down a place at club level, Clark is expected to feature in Ireland’s upcoming friendlies with an ageing Richard Dunne likely to be used sparingly.
Captain of a high-flying Ireland U21 team in contention for Euro qualification, Shane Duffy is currently on loan to Yeovil from Everton. The centre-back will renew his loan period in the January transfer window and remain with The Glovers for whom he has made 14 appearances this season. The Derryman has played ten times for Everton since signing as a youth-team player in 2008.
The man at the centre of a tug-of-war between Northern Ireland, whom he had represented at under-age level, and the Republic of Ireland, it was Duffy’s case that prompted the IFA to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Aged just 18-years-old, Duffy was involved in a freak collision with the goalkeeper in an Irish practice game at Gannon Park which saw him suffer life-threatening damage to his liver. Only speedy action from the medical team saved the youngster’s life.
Duffy’s had loan moves to Burnley and Scunthorpe and made his Premier League début at White Hart Lane on 11 January 2012, marking his first start three days later against Aston Villa. In February 2012 Duffy was called up to replace Richard Dunne in the Irish squad for the friendly with the Czech Republic. He made three substitute appearances for Everton last term but was an ever-present on the bench. The Irishman is under contract at Goodison Park until 2015 having signed a new deal in 2012. A strong finish to the season could see him return to a Toffees squad aiming to reach the Champions League.
O’Brien was one player rarely mentioned regarding Giovanni Trapattoni’s refusal to pick Irish players on form in the Premier League. He played 33 games last season scoring twice and has lined out on 14 occasions for the Hammers this term. O’Brien was recalled to the Irish squad last October by interim manager Noel King. He did feature for Trapattoni in the friendlies with Oman and Serbia but was largely ignored by the Italian. With a new management team in place, O’Brien’s club form may finally earn him recognition but much will depend on whether O’Neill opts to utilise Seamus Coleman in a different position as O’Brien would be in direct competition for the right-back slot.
Like it or not, Stephen Ireland is in the frame for an international recall. He was quick to express his enthusiasm for the new management appointments saying he was keen to speak with Martin O’Neill. The Cobhman has scored twice in 12 appearances for the Potters this season, and once in the Capital One Cup. The midfielder has started 7 times as he looks to rebuild his career at the Britannia Stadium with team-mate Peter Crouch among those singing his praises.
Back in the 2008/9 season Ireland scored 13 times for Man City and burst onto the international scene netting four in Ireland’s Euro qualifiers. He looked to have the world at his feet. Spells at Newcastle and Aston Villa followed but he failed to hit the heights he’d done in Manchester. Ireland played 17 times for the Villans last season but didn’t find the net.
His self imposed international exile has oft been discussed in recent years and the Corkman has made noises again since the appointment of O’Neill and Keane. O’Neill has indicated he would welcome the player back but it will all depend on his club form. Ireland is on loan at Stoke until the end of the season when his Villa contract also expires but Mark Hughes has already boosted the player’s confidence by hinting at a permanent move. With club mate Glenn Whelan once a mainstay in the Irish team, Ireland would have to feel a run in the Stoke side would boost his chances of international selection in what has been a problem position for the Republic.
It’s now time for an Irish striker to step up and prove they have what it takes to succeed Robbie Keane. The LA Galaxy forward is likely to remain a part of Martin O’Neill’s plans by virtue of his form at club level, his experience, and the lack of an alternative. As a Premier League regular, Shane Long had a lightning start to last season but couldn’t maintain that form. Few suffered the crazed decisions of Giovanni Trapattoni more than Long with Simon Cox often preferred ahead of him despite operating at a lower level.
However a super goal against England at Wembley and assuming the captaincy for the Georgian game were stand out moments in his international season. A slow start to the Premier League has picked up with three goals in 14 appearances, against Chelsea and a brace against Aston Villa. Long was also on target in Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge versus Latvia and is now the subject of transfer rumours in the January window. A big showing in the second half of the season could make him first choice for Ireland when the Euro qualifiers come round.
One striker who is in form is the 29-year-old ex-Cork City player who has 15 goals for League One leaders Leyton Orient this season and penned a new two year deal last June. Signed from Reading in 2010 Mooney scored 8 goals in his first season. He netted 13 times last term including 10 in 12 games but injury curtailed the end of his campaign. With Kevin Doyle’s Wolves battling it out with Orient for promotion to the Championship, the player who’s had spells with Shamrock Rovers, Longford Town, Norwich, and Colchester will feel his scoring form may earn him an international call-up.
While Daryl Murphy has seven goals in the Championship and has worked under Keane before, Mooney is the top Irish scoring forward and may earn a chance as O’Neill assesses his options.
Eighteen-year-old Jack Grealish is currently on loan with Notts County from Aston Villa where he has grabbed three goals in 16 appearances. The highly-rated youngster is also being been tracked by England but has represented Ireland since U15 level and has already featured for Noel King’s U21s.
Grealish was just 16 when promoted to the Villa first-team bench for the Premier League match against Chelsea in March 2012. He’s since made his début in the pre-season draw away at Wycombe Wanderers, and notched a first goal for the first team in the 5-0 rout of Walsall a week later. Out on loan at Notts County, Grealish has been on the scoresheet with two superb finishes against Colchester and Gillingham, and a third strike against Bradford.
The Birmingham native and life-long Villa fan was Ireland’s U-17 player of the year for 2012 and a star of the Villan’s Next Gen Series title winning team, a competition bringing together some of the top clubs in Europe. Martin O’Neill has spoken of unearthing a young gem in Irish football and with Grealish still eligible for England, the teenager may be fast-tracked to the Republic senior side in 2014.